COLLEGE STATION — A state Senate bill proposed to overhaul Texas water law has benefits for agriculture, says a Texas A&M professor whose research was instrumental in shaping the bill.
Dr. Ronald Kaiser, a professor and attorney who specializes in legal issues regarding renewable natural resources, said the bill provides critical information for agriculturalists facing potential water shortages.
“Overall, this is a bill that creates a planning framework to deal with drought and its risks,” Kaiser said.
“It’s also a bottom-up rather than a top-down planning process. Communities will plan for droughts, rather than having the state do the planning for them.”
The bill also encourages conservation, removes barriers to farmers and ranchers selling their water at a profit, and should improve environmental protection, Kaiser said.
The bill was approved by the Senate Natural Resources committee in March and is scheduled for a Senate vote this week. A House of Representatives version of the bill has yet to be discussed.
Kaiser, a professor of recreation, park and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University, has published studies on water marketing and transfer practices that were used in crafting the bill. He worked with the committee on the bill and also testified in the committee hearings.
His studies suggested the need for ensuring sufficient flows for the ecological health of rivers, bays and estuaries; enhancing opportunities for water marketing; removing legal barriers to water transfers; and encouraging transfers as a means of meeting urban recreational and environmental needs.
The studies also recommended authorizing interbasin transfers of water, subject to regulatory approval, as long as economic and environmental assessments show benefits to the receiving basin exceed the costs to the transferring basin.
Kaiser’s work also recommended creating an environmental “water trust fund” to set aside water for environmental water needs, allow the sale of conserved water, and remove barriers to marketing groundwater.
“The bill encourages conservation by allowing parties to sell their water without giving up the underlying rights to the water. That’s beneficial for agriculture,” Kaiser said.
“If a farmer or rancher finds it more profitable to sell to cities rather than irrigate, he or she can do so, and some of the barriers are removed.”
The bill is crucial because water demand continues to grow while the opportunity to build more reservoirs shrinks, Kaiser said.
“Texas has reached a crossroads in seeking to provide an adequate supply of water to meet the state’s needs,” he said.
“These practices can provide more water and are an alternative to building more reservoirs,” he said. “The governor, lieutenant governor, legislators and their staffs should be complimented on drafting a bill that is bold and well-reasoned. It should help the state cope with future droughts.”